The City That Gave Birth to Bolognese Swordsmanship, from a Contemporary Map.

Bologna, 1575

The Bolognese Swordsmanship Style and Weapons

Bolognese swordsmanship is also known in the Western Martial Arts community as the Dardi school since there are some reports of its originator being a swordsman and philosopher by that name; however, none of the extant treatises refer to Dardi, nor is he the first recorded fencing master of Bologna. Therefore, we prefer to call it simply Bolognese: the period sources describing this style are all from the city of Bologna, Italy, which is located two hours' drive south of Milan. The primary sources for this style are all from the 16th Century: Antonio Manciolino (1531), Achille Marozzo (1536), The Anonimo Bolognese (two anonymous manuscripts from the same author penned in the first half of the 1500s), and Giovanni Dall'Agocchie (1572). The unity of style and consistency of terminology is strong evidence of a standardized curriculum, which as far as we have recorded evidence from primary sources, points to a Maestro Guido Antonio de Lucha Bolognese, teacher of Marozzo and likely of Manciolino, operating in the opening years of the 1500s. Although this was both a military and a civilian style (as proven by the words of Dall’Agocchie, Viggiani, and others), the treatises primarily deal with the one-on-one contest of the judicial duel.

The single-handed sword style of Bolognese swordsmanship is one which features the cut more prominently than the so-called rapier styles of the next century. Actions for the single-handed sword are detailed for the sword used alone and in conjunction with several defensive weapons such as the small buckler (brocchiero piccolo), the broad buckler (brocchiero largo) the square targa, the larger rotella, the cape, and the dagger. Additionally, some of the sources detail the use of the two-handed sword or spadone and various polearms, including the Halberd, Ronca, Spiedo, Partisan, and Pollaxe. Marozzo also provides a set of twenty-two counters to use against an assailant who has a dagger, knife, or stiletto.

The single-handed swords that can be used for the Bolognese style range from the military-style broadsword to the rapier proper, although we find that a sword with a blade somewhat shorter and more substantial than the rapier is ideal for practice. We use weapons made by Arms and Armor and Darkwood Armory, although there are other options available. Generally, we prefer the single-handed sword to feature a relatively substantial blade of 33 to 38 inches in length; the weapon should weigh enough that cutting is most comfortable when using the shoulder and elbow as opposed to using only the elbow and wrist. For the Spadone, we use both a sword manufactured by Del Tin and a training weapon manufactured by Arms and Armor. In addition, Arms and Armor offers a trainer for the Iberian Montante and Darkwood Armory manufactures training weapons, both of which will work quite very well.

Suggestions for further reading and discussion:

Our Bolognese work

The nature of the surviving sources for this system requires that we look to multiple sources (including some outside of this tradition, such as Fiore, Meyer, and Altoni). This contrast to our approach for the rapier is necessary to fully understand the material as many of the treatises were not written as instruction manuals (although Dall'Agocchie is a notable exception). However, we are sure to always give appropriate attention to the differences which exist from treatise to treatise, even those within the same tradition (for example, the differences in the nomenclature and forms of the guards among the various treatises). As with all styles we practice, we are careful to always remain on a straight philological track and to never incorporate elements that we see as alien to the style.

Research & Resources

The Robert J Lord collection of historical treatises includes some of the Bolognese works:
Antonio Manciolino (5.2 Mb)
Achille Marozzo, 1536 edition (15.9 Mb)
Angelo Viggiani (29.1 Mb)

The Tattershall School of Defence has a resources page with several treatises, including:
Antonio Manciolino (13.7 Mb)
Achille Marozzo, 1568 edition (33.9 Mb)

Il Cerchio Books has a selection of Historical Swordsmanship Titles (all in Italian).
Most importantly, this is where to obtain the M. Rubboli and L. Cesari transcription of The Anonymous Bolognese manuscript.

Jherek Swanger has freely-available translations of various Bolognese works:
Books I through III of Manciolino's treatise (67.7 Kb)
Book III of Viggiani's treatise (963 Kb)
Books I and II of Dall'Agocchie's treatise (1.4 Mb)

Last Updated: 28-Oct-11